Philippians 4 Commentary

v. 1 Whom I . . . long for, epipothetoi, recalls 1:8, and expresses his ardent desire to see them again. […] The Greek word for crown, stephanos, besides the figurative meaning which expresses ten­der love, was commonly used to denote the festive garland, worn as a sign of gladness, or the wreath awarded to the victor at the athletic contest (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25). If the metaphor is to be applied here, it means that the Philippian Christians would be regarded as his ‘reward’, the seal of his apostleship (1 Cor. 9:2), and the proof that his labour had not been in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58; cf. Phil. 2:16). They would be his crown at the final day.”[1]

vv. 2-3 “This passage iden­tifies two women as important participants in the life of the Philippian church, as fellow contenders with Paul in the cause of the gospel, and as fel­low workers with Paul. These are impressive credentials. Paul’s only other use of the verb ‘contend together with’ appears in 1:27, where he tells the entire congregation that they should be ‘contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.’ Since Paul is speaking of steadfastness in the face of persecution in 1:27, there is no reason to think that he refers to anything else in 4:2. Euodia and Syntyche, then, have bravely withstood persecution alongside Paul, perhaps during the time when he originally preached the gospel in Philippi.

“Paul mentions these two in a letter to be read to the church […] Notice that Paul does not, as some pastors do, regard matters such as this as private, to be settled outside the church lest anyone be disturbed. No, in Paul’s view, this is precisely the nature and function of the congregation as a partnership. Being members of one another means laying before each other joys, sorrows, and burdens, but also issues to be settled (1 Cor. 6:1-6).”[2]

v. 2 “The common ‘mind’ they are to share, in reconciliation and mutual love, is one which sets the good of the church above personal interest, and finds its inspiration in the lowliness of the incarnate Lord and the standard he expects of his people (2:3, 5). The reason for their quarrel is not given but it is clear from the wording that it was more than a personal disagree­ment; their quarrel had ecclesiastical repercussions.”[3]

v. 3 “Paul provides an example to his readers of how to work for the unity with which he has been so concerned throughout the letter and with which he is especially concerned here. Such disputes are not the private concern of those quarreling, but of the entire church. It is appropriate, then, for the church to seek to arbitrate such disputes through the mediation of a believer who is gifted with the ability to help people overcome their dif­ferences.”[4]

“‘are in the book of life,’ a traditional title of honor frequently used in Jewish literature for the people of God who have suffered persecution but have nevertheless remained faithful (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 3:5; cf. Isa. 4:3; Luke 10:20).”[5]

How could a loyal yokefellow help feuding women? No one knows for sure who this loyal yokefellow was.  Apparently he (the noun is masculine) was a mature Christian whom Paul could trust to help mediate the dispute, perhaps by bringing them together to reconcile their differences.”[6]

v. 4 “The appeal to constant rejoicing (cf. 1 Thes. 5:16) is no empty phrase. To a company of Christ’s people, who were in doubt and fear (1:28) and set in the midst of a hostile world (2:15), this assurance rings out like a clarion call, and is repeated so that its message may not be misunderstood. Paul has the supreme qualification to issue the call, for he himself is engrossed in ‘the same struggle’ (1:30) as that which the Philippians are facing; […] In the Lord is the governing factor in the exhorta­tion. It is the Philippians’ faith in the Lord which makes rejoicing in the throes of opposition a glorious possibility, as Bonnard finely comments: ‘The Pauline appeals to joy are never simply encouragements; they throw back the distressed churches on their Lord; they are, above all, appeals to faith.’

v. 5 “Christians should be known for a quality that is rendered in both the NIV and the NRSV as ‘gentleness.’ The Greek term epieikes is more positive than that. It denotes generosity toward others and is a characteristic of Christ himself (cf. 2 Cor. 10:1); the NEB’s ‘magnanimity’ and the REB’s ‘consideration of others’ catch its meaning.”[7]

“In 4:2-3, Paul is concerned with relations within the Christian community, but in 4:5 he turns to the church’s dealings with those outside. Consideration of others is to be shown to everyone, not just to fellow Christians. Since this attitude, too, is a reflection of that seen in Christ, Paul is in effect urging the Philippians to let their lives be a proclamation of the gospel.”[8]

v. 6 “The possibility and reality of prayer give the rationale of the first words of the sentence which, by themselves, seem so impossible to obey. We may be freed from all fretful care and feverish anxiety because we may refer all our distresses and problems to God in prayer. […]  anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water.”[9]

“Alert, yes; anxious, no. ‘Have no anxiety about anything’ (Matt. 6:25-34,) here applies to nervous, doubt-filled concern for their own well being and is not to be taken as a blanket endorsement of total indifference to the conditions of others. In other words, this is no scriptural warrant for not caring.”[10]

“All prayer and supplication are to be accompanied by thanksgiving, something that has characterized the whole of this letter. The result will be that the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds ‘in Christ Jesus.’ The peace promised here is far more than an absence of conflict. Rather, it is total well-being, and it comes from God—once again, to those who are in Christ Jesus and who share his attitude, so that his ‘heart and mind’ become theirs.[11]

v. 8 “The virtues mentioned in 4:8 were among those that were honored in the pagan world, a fact that reminds us that we should not be afraid to take over the best in our secular world and claim it for Christ. In a sense, of course, this is but a recognition that everything that is true and pure comes from God.”[12]

How can we think lovely thoughts? Paul is not talking about fleeting impressions that invade our thinking.  Thoughts of temptation or discouragement can come unannounced.  But we can discipline ourselves, making conscious choices to contemplate good things.”[13]

vv.8-9 “Paul belies any attempt to separate thought from deed in verse 8-9 when he uses the term ‘think’ in verse 8 and the expression ‘put into practice’ in verse 9.  Since the Philippians must think about his teaching and example in order to put them into practice, and since Paul will not believe that the Philippians have obeyed his command to think about the virtues he lists if they have not also acted on them, the two words have much the same meaning.  Our thinking and our actions, then, are closely bound together.  Indulging in evil thought and tolerating sloppy thinking can have terrible consequences.  Thus, if instead of loving my enemy I indulge the temptation to resent him, resentment turns to anger, anger to hatred, and the link between hatred and murder, as Jesus saw, is close (Matt. 5:21-22).”[14]

v. 9 “Once again, therefore, they are urged to imitate Paul, who embodies for them the gospel message. The verse reminds us yet again of the close link between the proclamation of the gospel and the moral demand to be like Christ, which rests on those who respond.”[15]

“His expression ‘learned and received’ refers to passing along a tradition. There is a body of teaching giving identity and continuity to the Christian community.”[16]

vv. 10-20 “Paul faces the difficult task of showing the Philippians his genuine appreciation for their financial support, both past and present, but of also showing that his work is neither dependent on nor motivated by this support. He does this through combining expressions of gratitude with qualifications designed to prevent misunderstanding.”[17]

v. 10 “Perhaps because of their poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-2), however, they had not been able to help Paul in this way recently. Thus Paul rejoices ‘greatly’ that the opportunity to show their concern for him has returned.”[18]

At last suggests a harsh and sinister implication as though Paul were chiding the Philippians for forgetfulness or dilatoriness in sending the money to him. But this idea is absent from the Greek, and the following sentence gives the reason for the unavoidable delay in the arrival of the church’s gift.”[19]

v. 11Content […] As a moral term it plays an important part in the stoic outlook upon life. Socrates, for instance, is held up by Diogenes Laertius in the third century AD as an example of a ‘self-sufficient’ man who faced, with equanimity and resolution, all that life brought to him. Paul’s use of the term is, however, quite distinct from the stoic ideal as verse 13 shows (cf 2 Cor. 9:8). A stoic term may be used; but it is Christ who is the secret of Paul’s serenity (1:21).”[20]

v.13What does God give us strength to do? Everything means all that God desires us to do – not absurd, selfish or evil things.  In Paul’s own example, it meant that God had given him the ability to be content whether he had plenty or overwhelming need.  God’s grace will sustain us not matter where he leads – even when we lack material things.”[21]

v. 14 “The verb sygkoinoneo [to share] is a com­pound of the verb also translated ‘shared’ in v. 15; equivalent nouns are used in 1:5 and 7 (‘partnership’ and, lit., ‘fellow participants’). The fel­lowship of those in Christ involves sharing with one another at all levels: The Philippians have shared Paul’s distress, just as they shared with him ‘in the matter of giving and receiving’ (v. 15). This does not mean that the Philippians gave and Paul received. On the contrary, the giving and receiving were mutual, since he goes on to say that he has been paid in full.”[22]

v. 15 “The fact that the Philippians were the only Christians who supported Paul is significant, since it suggests that the bond between him and them was particularly strong.”[23]

vv. 17-18 “Paul has returned once again to the meta­phor of the financial ledger, which he used in 3:7-8, and he hastens to assure them that the books have been balanced. ‘I have been paid in full,’ he declares; the Greek word […] which he uses here, is the word that would have been used on a receipt. Thus Paul has been paid more than enough. The implication seems to be that the Philippians had once been in his debt; what they owed him, of course, was the fact that he had brought them the gospel. Now Paul changes the metaphor again. The gifts brought by Epaphroditus were ‘a fragrant offering, an accept­able sacrifice, pleasing to God.’ Though the gifts were offered to Paul, they have in effect been offered to God, since they are being used for ‘the defense and confirmation of the gospel’ (1:7). It seems, then, that the account is being held with God and that the Philippians are storing up trea­sure in heaven (cf. Matt 6:20; 19:21).”[24]

v. 18 a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice.  The OT background is the sacrifice, not of atonement for sin, but of thanksgiving and praise (cf. Lev 7:12-15; Ro 12:1; Eph 5:2; Heb 13:15-16).”[25]

“Paul then […] begins to speak in language that the Old Testament uses to describe the sacrifices of God’s people. In Israel’s history these sacrifices were often corrupted by the people’s idolatrous practices or social injustices. But Isaiah looks forward to a time when God’s people will once again offer ‘acceptable’ sacrifices to the Lord (Isa. 56:7; 60:7). Perhaps Paul understands the generous commitment the Philippians have shown to the gospel to be a partial fulfillment of these prophecies within the new Israel.”[26]

v. 19 “Certainly, verse 19 allows for the possibility that God will supply the phys­ical needs of his people, but this is not the primary concern of the verse. […] If we take Jesus and Paul as examples, it becomes apparent that sometimes obedience to the will of God requires physical deprivation to the point of death.

“The promise of verse 19 must instead be linked with verse 13, and both verses must be read in light of verses 11-12: God supplies the needs of his people by giving them the resources to cope with hardship. Hardship tempts us to think that God is unmoved by our plight or is against us, and so we despair. Thus, when we experience difficult times, we need the moderating presence of God, who shows us by the cross of Christ that he is for us, not against us, and that he was so filled with love for us that he sent his Son to die on our behalf.”[27]


[1] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 167.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, “Philippians,” Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1985) 69-70.

[3] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 168.

[4] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 223.

[5] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 217.

[6] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1634.

[7] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 540.

[8] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 547.

[9] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 171.

[10] Fred B. Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1985)) 72.

[11] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 541.

[12] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 548.

[13] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1634.

[14] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 231-232.

[15] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 541.

[16] Fred B. Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1985)) 74.

[17] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 235.

[18] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 235-236.

[19] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 176.

[20] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) 178.

[21] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1634.

[22] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 544.

[23] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 544.

[24] Leander E. Keck, “Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) 545

[25] The NIV Study Bible, study notes  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985)  1809.

[26] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 237.

[27] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995) 241.

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